After Smackdown's first PPV, Backlash, had been a surprisingly good effort, RAW's Clash of Champions was going to be even better, right? After all it had a stronger card, headlined by Kevin Owens defending the Universal Championship and with Chris Jericho, Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Sasha Banks all in major spots on the card. This was gonna be a great show...wasn't it?
The main event that saw Kevin Owens makes his first Universal Championship defense against Seth Rollins in a bout that showed the potential of the performers, but was ultimately held back by some questionable booking. The performances from both Champion and challenger were spot on throughout, with Owens upping his intensity levels when in control, loudly voicing his opinions of Rollins, as he focused in on his opponents hamstring to control the bout, on the other hand Rollins sublte babyface performance was a great watch as he sold the injured leg well and made each near fall count selling just how desperate he was with the look on his face. The Architect didn't quite go full babyface here, which perhaps held the match back a little (especially in the opening), but there were certainly signs that a rematch would see the culmination of the turn.
The action wasn't always as crisp as it could have been, yet there was still some sequences that betrayed the quality of the wrestlers, especially in the moments before Chris Jericho came to ringside. The section where Owens escaped the Pedigree, flowing nicely into a cannonball near fall, as well as a strike sequence coming moments after Rollins had escaped a Package Piledriver attempt were both done with at a strong pace, whilst the challenger continue to do an explemary sell-job. The build towards Owens putting himself through the announce table was handled well, with Rollins introducing the table earlier in the match, making it a Chekov's Gun. Rollins following this up with a Frog Splash also mirrored a spot moments earlier where Owens would deliver a gutbuster off the top before hitting the same move.
Despite some problems with the booking not helping the pair, it was the conclusion that would stand out as the most frustrating of these. Having Jericho involved, made perfect sense, he's been associated with Owens for month and arguably has more heat than the champion at the moment, but his involvement made what could have been a simple finish into a big of a mess. There were some nice moments, like Rollins turning a Pop-Up Powerbomb into a Pedigree with the referee down and then hitting a pair of suicide dives on Jeri-KO, but there was also the overly contrived ref bump that left little reason for the ref to be down for so long and a messy finish that saw Stephanie McMahon sound a second referee down to the ring, long after the referee had initially been knocked down. Individually, I don't have any problem with a lot of the elements used in the finish, Jericho's interference, the ref bump, McMahon sending out a second ref, the near falls, but when put together it didn't quite work. You can have the best ingredients in the world, but that doesn't mean they'll all taste well together.
The semi-main was a straight-forward United States Championship match where Roman Reigns took the belt from "The Bulgarian Brute" Rusev, which didn't have a lot to get excited about. Apart from the Indiannapolis crowd chanting for "CM Punk", there really wasn't anything wrong with this match, both men did everything they did well, it's just for almost 20 minutes of wrestling, there wasn't much that made sit up and take notice. You probably could have shaved ten minutes of this and got a better match out of it, because it felt like about that much action was having to be stretched across that longer time span. This was especially notably in the finish, where the pair seemed to be going over the same kind of ground, repeating a handful of spots and mainly sticking to having Reigns hitting the Superman Punch or Spear in a couple of different situations.
Both men had their moments of effectiveness, where I felt like the match could be going in a different direction, with Reigns selling his injuries well, whilst Rusev got over his frustration at being able to put away The Big Dog nicely. However, these were also two areas that I don't think were explored to their full potentianal, Reigns' rib injuries got slightly lost in the conclusion that seemed to want to do too much, and Rusev's frustration could have been to build to better ending. I think, what truly held this match back was the fact that Rusev and Reigns have had a shit load of matches on television over the last two years and this match didn't feel any different from any of their previous encounters. Yes, a lot of those had DQ finishes, but they've also had bouts with better conclusions that have gone longer and been more intense than this on Monday Night RAW.
Arguably, the best match on the show was Match 7 of Sheamus and Cesaro's Best of Seven Series, which has been a sleeper hit on RAW over the previous five weeks. This encounter continued the theme, as Cesaro and Sheamus reached into the depth of storytelling opportunities that they'd left for each other over the previous five weeks. There were call-backs to previous finishes, use of the on-going narrative of Cesaro's injured back, as well as the pair pulling out new tricks, which the commentary team put over very well as the the duo attempting to surprise an opponent that perhaps knee them better than anyone else (at least, right now anyway). One of my favourite moments in this was Sheamus hitting a backbreaker version of his Pale Justice Crucifix Powerbomb, that despite not looking as polished as it could, pulled in a number of the match stories and looked fucking brutal in the process.
I can see the finish splitting the wrestling audience, because having the match end in a No Contest after six previous bouts over five weeks, was a brave decision. However, I thought the pair worked the moment well, brawling around ringside and then into the crowd as Cesaro hit a clothesline over the barricade that kept them both down, as officals came to check on them and the match was called off. It was perhaps not what people were expecting and initially I'll admit that I wasn't sold on them leaving the series at 3-3, but once I saw Cesaro and Sheamus selling the match, selling how much effort they'd put into trying to beat the other and selling the desperation to continue the fight. The fact that the audience began to chant "Let them fight" after initially showing what at best could be described as indifference towards them, showed that the work had been done right. A rematch between the pair is now a bigger match, whilst there's also a couple of different aveneues to go down to prolonge the wait for a rematch, which would certainly beneficial to the guys who have fought 8 TV matches in 9 weeks!
Charlotte retaining the Women's Championship over Sasha Banks and Bayley was an interesting one, because it was cleverly put together for the majority of the match but concluded with a contrived finish, that left a bad taste in the mouth. Let's tallk about that finish first, because it's bugs me more than a little. Charlotte hits a Big Boot on Bayley that knocked Banks off the apron and then another big boot on Bayley to pick up the win. Firstly, a big boot is a lame finisher, especially when your big boot doesn't look particularly impressive in the first place. The commentary appeared to allude to the fact that Charlotte's manager Dana Brooke was in the wrong place for the finish, which would have made slightly more sense had she been holding onto Banks' ankle.
Outside of the finish, this was a cleverly booked and well performed encounter, that told a simple story. The idea that permeated the contest throughout was that Charlotte and Brooke were able to work together, whilst Banks and Bayley mostly decided to work as individuals and even when briefly on the same page their union wasn't strong enough to control the Women's Champion. Charlotte is capable of commanding the stage when in control and this allowed the sections were she worked over Banks to be good viewing, as Brooke kept Bayley down on the outside. Mostly the match flowed well, in terms of both storytelling and the action, with only the build towards a moonsault from Charlotte being anything but neat. It perhaps lacked the "Wow" factor off the WrestleMania 32 Three Way where Becky Lynch replaced Bayley, but still had enough dramatic near fall to keep the audience involved til the very end.
Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn had a solid bout, that featured some strong sequences and near falls, which was held back by a couple of sloppy spot. The opening of the bout may have been my favourite part about it as the two appeared to slot together perfectly, as Zayn produced a fun face shine sequence that included a moonsault off the barricade, whilst Jericho used his crafty ways to take control, using the referee as a shield to hit a triangle dropkick. The characters provided a fine foundation to build upon and whilst there was some great reversal and near fall sequences, it was this foundation that made the contest such an enjoyable watch, as Jericho would always have something up his sleeve to keep control. The bout was only let down by a couple of sloppy DDT spots, that seemed to show Jericho struggling to hold Zayn up to complete the moves.
Jericho getting the win with a Codebreaker was perhaps another point of contention here as out of all the matches on the card, a clean finish win for the heel made the least sense. A cheap win for Jericho would have worked wondefully, having him play possum before hitting a codebreaker perhaps, it was Jericho's devious ways that the match was built around so why not? Jericho didn't really stand to gain anything from pinning Zayn clean, and it could have potentially have harmed the man who's still developing a relationship with the WWE audience. Outside of his feud with Kevin Owens, Zayn has not just struggled for victories, but also to find an identifiable persona, that more casual fans could latch onto. Whilst Zayn proved once again that he's a reliable hand, the booking didn't help to cement him as top level performer, or even build towards that time.
Perhaps one of the more dissapointing contests of the night was TJ Perkins first defense of the Cruiserweight Championship against Brian Kendrick, because despite a bright closing sequence, the pair struggled to connect with the crowd and lacked chemistry. I'm not sure that Kendrick was the best person to include in the first Cruiserweight bout on PPV, because despite being a more familiar face, he isn't someone who will "Wow" a casual audience like these intial Cruiserweight matches should. His new character is brilliant, his gritty work and Captain's Hook finish is great, but that only works if a crowd is either invested in the babyface or familiar with that character. As of this match they were neither. The rana spot to the outside woke the crowd up and lead into a good final stretch, where Perkins won with a Knee Bar, but if you missed the Cruiserweight Classic, I think you'd have been wondering what all the hype was about.
The New Day's Tag Team title match with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson was another contest that seemed to have to work against the booking to produce anything entertaining. Xavier Woods using the trombone to get the win for his team, only works for the babyfaces, if we've seen a lot of shenanigans from Gallows & Anderson, but we hadn't. Yes the duo had used their power to their advantage and had dominated throughout, but they hadn't really used anything underhanded to take or remain in control. The brevity of the bout also meant that their wasn't much of a build towards any hot tag and no lengthy face in peril section where these kind of antics could have taken place. I'm hoping we get to see a rematch because these two teams have come nowhere close to reaching their potential together, but if they're going to have to work against the creative team again, then I'd rather they not bother.
ATPW Scale Rating - 6.32/10
This was a good show, but it could have been a great show. There was a hell of a lot of talent on display here and a card that had something to be interested in from top to bottom, but when the PPV ended it felt like we didn't quite get to see the best out of the performers. I feel that this was at know fault of their own, as there was some great displays from the likes of Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Charlotte and Chris Jericho, but each and every one of them was held back by the creative of the show. As a "B" show, you kind of expect these shows to be used to build the bigger events, but a lot of these booking decisions seemed to even work against doing that!
Show in a Sentence - Good wrestling, bad booking.